Field Trip: Bok Tower Gardens


Bok Tower Gardens

When I garden, I find myself gardening for the enjoyment of others as well as for myself. I think it’s something we all do — no matter if your garden is a collection of pots on a terrace or a sidewalk-hugging border or acres of formal beds, our gardens are an opportunity for someone walking by or stopped at a red light to take a moment to breathe.

Bok Tower Gardens

I started taking photos before I even purchased a ticket.

Air plants, attached to thin wires, seem to float in the air.

Air plants, attached to thin wires, seem to float in the air.

Fortunately, for all of us, Edward W. Bok (1863-1930) had the same idea about gardening. On a recent road trip, Joe and I had the chance to visit his garden, an enduring token of the opportunities he had been given in this country.

The view from the window by the pond, a place to sit and observe wildlife.

The view from the window by the pond, a place to sit and observe wildlife.

American Beautyberry.

American Beautyberry.

Bok arrived in the United States as a young boy from the Netherlands with his grandmother’s wisdom in his heart: “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.”

Ferns finding root on a fallen branch.

Ferns finding root on a fallen branch.

I have no idea what this plant is, but I was captivated.

I have no idea what this plant is, but I was captivated.

Bamboo.

Bamboo.

In time, in his new land, Bok grew to become a publisher, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, peace advocate, and the editor-in-chief of Ladies Home Journal, and he’s often credited with coining the phrase “living room.”

The patio at Pinewood Estate, a Mediterranean mansion that has been incorporated into the gardens.

The patio at Pinewood Estate, a Mediterranean mansion that has been incorporated into the gardens.

Another anonymous plant that caught my eye.

Another anonymous plant that caught my eye.

While wintering with his wife in Lake Wales, FL, — between Tampa and Orlando — Bok became enchanted with nearby Iron Mountain, which, at 298 feet, is one of the highest points in Florida. In 1921, he decided to preserve the hilltop as a bird sanctuary.

On route to the reflection pool and the Singing Tower.

On route to the reflection pool and the Singing Tower.

The giant lily pads seem to be floating in the air.

The giant lily pads seem to be floating in the air.

He commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., — the son of the man who landscaped New York City’s Central Park — to turn the sandy outcrop into a lush subtropical paradise. Trenches were dug, water pipes were placed, and load after load of rich, black topsoil arrived. Palms, live oaks, azaleas, magnolias are just a few of the plants that today provide food and refuge for 126 species of birds.

The centerpiece of the garden is the 205 ft. Singing Tower, which houses a 60-bell carillon. As visitors stroll the paths or contemplate while sitting on a well-placed bench, the Singing Tower serenades the entire garden with its rich musical tones.

The Singing Tower, as seen from the reflection pool.

The Singing Tower, as seen from the reflection pool.

The brass doors overlook Edward W. Bok's burial site.

The brass doors overlook Edward W. Bok’s burial site at the base of his Singing Tower.

Trees draped with Spanish moss.

Trees draped with Spanish moss.

The view from the overlook.

The view from the overlook.

On February 1, 1929, the gardens were officially dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge.

Bok Tower Gardens is a definite must-see if you ever find yourself in this part of Florida.  Meditative.  Contemplative.  Inspirational.

If you do go, I recommend going in a cooler season or in the morning hours.  A sunny September afternoon was too hot — but we stayed on the shady paths and were rewarded with a fantastic breeze at the overlook near the tower.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip.  More field trips to come . . .

Note: I embedded two videos, courtesy of YouTube.  I’m able to watch them on my phone, but not on my laptop.  Not sure what that means, but they may be of interest.

10 thoughts on “Field Trip: Bok Tower Gardens

  1. I enjoyed a tour around Bok Tower Gardens .. It is always lovely to see gardens that stand the test of time. I have been to the US but not Florida … I must keep that on the bucket list!

    • Hi Canberras! Florida is an interesting place. Off course, it’s home to Disney, but there are so many other beautiful places — and I’m still learning about them. South Florida is considered subtropical, so winters here are very mild. The northern part of the peninsula can’t a bit chilly in winter — but certainly not as cold as northern regions of the country. What this means is that there a whole lot of plants that can only grow in the southern part of the state. See you soon! 🙂

  2. My mother-in-law was an avid gardener and when it was time for her to leave her home of more than 50 years and move into an assisted living facility, she took her second floor balcony and grew the most gorgeous geraniums and pelargoniums. Some of them trailed down past the railing and people would stop their cars upon passing and she enjoyed the attention! You really did take us with you on a wonderful field trip, and I am really impressed with the words of Bok’s grandmother and the intention to leave the world a more beautiful place. Your photographs are spectacular, Kevin. Everything about these gardens is appealing to the senses, and it is a lovely idea that Bok is remembered with a visit to such a beautiful estate. I’ll look forward to your next field trip, too! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. Thank you for sharing the wonderful memory of your mother-in-law. Beautiful! I was pleasantly surprised by Bok. When I arrived, I had never heard of him — but, like his garden, there were layers and layers to this man. 🙂

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